Skip to Content
Streetsblog California home
Streetsblog California home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

FHWA Gleefully Reports That Driving Is Rising Again

7:55 AM PDT on August 24, 2015

href="http://usa.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2015/08/miles-traveled.gif">Chart: Doug Short Chart: Doug Short[/caption]

After flatlining for nearly a decade, the mileage driven by Americans is rising once again. That means more traffic overwhelming city streets, slowing down buses, and spewing pollutants into the air. But to the Federal Highway Administration, it's a development to report with barely contained glee.

This June, Americans drove 8.7 billion more miles than last June, according to FHWA, a 3.5 percent increase. Total mileage in 2015 is on pace for a new high -- finally "beating the previous record" of 1.5 trillion vehicle miles set 2007, the agency reports, as if the further entrenchment of America's car-dependence is some sort of achievement.

Low gas prices, population growth, and an expanding economy are three factors nudging traffic back onto an upward trajectory, not to mention a transportation policy regime that remains tilted overwhelmingly toward highway construction.

The recent growth in traffic, however, does not negate lasting signs of a long-term shift away from driving. Economist Doug Short gets into more detail about the nuances in the trends, pointing out that on a per-capita basis, Americans are now driving about as much as we did in 1997.

Vehicle miles traveled, adjusted for population. Chart: Doug Short
Vehicle miles traveled, adjusted for population. Chart: Doug Short
false

Nevertheless, FHWA's PR team seems eager to convince the world that nothing has changed -- and that this is great news for America. The agency points out that this brings total miles driven to twice what they were in 1981, "continuing a trend of America's driving mileage doubling nearly every generation."

Based on the FHWA's press release, you might think that the explicit goal of American transportation policy is simply to double traffic mileage again by 2050. The new numbers, the agency says, reaffirm "calls for increased investment in transportation infrastructure as demand on the nation’s highway system grows."

Here's a thought: Maybe the way to reduce strain on the nation's highway system isn't just to "increase investment," but to adjust transportation spending priorities, so Americans can make more trips without having to get in a car.

This graph shows cumulative federal, state and local capital spending on highways transit and Rising rates of driving in the U.S. mirror spending priorities. Graph: Frontier Group
Cumulative federal, state, and local capital spending on highways and transit in the U.S. Graph: Frontier Group
false

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog California

How the Next Generation of Mobility Justice Leaders Are Fighting For Transportation Equity

... and what they wish other transportation advocates knew about their work.

February 28, 2024

Kelley Leaving Oakland Department of Transportation

Megan Wier, OakDOT Assistant Director, will step in to run the agency starting March 11

February 28, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines

Plastics are environmentally harmful and growing; Police chases kill hundreds of bystanders; Electric truck charging hub opens in SoCal; More

February 28, 2024

Who Regrets Tearing Down the Embarcadero Freeway?

An excerpt from John King's "Portal: San Francisco's Ferry Building and the Reinvention of American Cities"—and a reminder of how much attitudes can change about car-dominated cities and infrastructure

February 27, 2024
See all posts